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I keep hearing the phrases unarguably the best and arguably the best. Some people say one, some people say the other when they mean he's the best.

However which one is actually correct?

  1. If he's unarguably the best, then no one can argue about it. He is the best.

  2. If he's arguably the best, then some people can argue about it. He may be the best but he it can be argued, maybe there is someone better.

People just keep using one or the other. My mind is exploding trying to understand which one to use.

Please help me understand this!

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    You have understood it! In fact you explained the difference very well. 'Arguably' means you are not certain that he is the best. 'Unarguably' means you are certain. – chasly from UK Nov 7 '15 at 2:46
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    But do people actually think which one to use? i was under impression they just use whichever and mean the same thing. that's why i got confused. like today i heard "hes arguably the best nba player" did they mean he was the best? what's the real meaning when you say "arguably". is it the same as "one of the" -- "hes one of the best nba players" (but there are others who are just as good or better" – bodacydo Nov 7 '15 at 4:00
  • Thoughtful people do think which one to use, others not so much. You need to assess the speaker for yourself and decide whether you think they're in one camp or the other. You can always follow-up with a pointed question to see if your assessment was correct. A lot of the time it will make no difference to the conversation. – Jim Nov 7 '15 at 4:26
  • You already have a good grasp of the difference. To improve the clarity of these expressions, try using definitely instead of unarguably. – Lawrence Nov 7 '15 at 6:01
  • Best in what way? Is a racing car better than a dump truck? That depends on whether you need to carry tons of soil. For this reason, any statement about a thing being best should use "arguably". – doug65536 Nov 7 '15 at 14:30
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Arguably the best means there are reasons to believe he is the best.

Unarguably the best means nobody can disagree he is the best.

Both are grammatical, but the second is a stronger statement than the first.

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    do people actually think which one to use? i was under impression they just use whichever and mean the same thing. that's why i got confused. like today i heard "hes arguably the best nba player" did they mean he was the best? what's the real meaning when you say "arguably". is it the same as "one of the" -- "hes one of the best nba players" (but there are others who are just as good or better" – bodacydo Nov 7 '15 at 3:59
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    @bodacydo they definitely mean different things. Someone would say "he's arguably the best NBA player" if they expected some people to agree but some to disagree. Someone would say "he's unarguably the best NBA player" if they expected no-one to disagree once the case had been made. If anyone uses them as being the same, they're doing it wrong. – user568458 Nov 7 '15 at 9:54
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    @bodacydo Also, by saying "arguably", you're distancing yourself from the statement a little - you're not even saying for sure that you agree, you're merely saying it can be argued. If someone utterly disproves it, you weren't wrong that there are people who do argue that (incorrect) position. It's something you might say when you think something might be true but you're not yet certain. By saying "unarguably", you're committing to the position it very strongly. – user568458 Nov 7 '15 at 10:02
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    In my experience people do know the distinction and if they say "arguably" they mean that they know that an argument could be made for someone else to be the best. When they say "unarguably" they mean that they do not believe any such reasonable argument could be made. – Nagora Nov 7 '15 at 12:34
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In he's arguably the best, the word arguably is being used as a hedging device. This means that it softens the strength of the claim and can help the speaker avoid being contradicted. The fact that you have said arguably actually prevents people from arguing with you about it! (You have already conceded that people may disagree about whether he is the best or not). It is functioning like a concessive device.

I don't know whether there is a formal terms for this, but the use of unarguably is exactly the opposite of a hedge. It is telling the listener that you are absolutely certain that he is the best and that you are so confident about it that you claim that the proposition is unassailable.

Both of these terms are used to modulate the listener's understanding about your confidence in the assertion. One limits your apparent confidence in your assertion the other increases it.

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Both of your examples could be used with a different meaning, but "arguably" is more braodly used than "unarguably".

Each word of the English language has its specific purpose or meaning when people choose to use it.

Arguably is defined as a "sentence adverb" which means:

It may be argued (used to qualify the statement of an opinion or belief): ‘she is arguably the greatest woman tennis player of all time’

People argue because each has a different point of view and way of judging something or someone. If you use "arguably" in a sentence, you are admitting that "what you are stating" can be a topic of argument as the above example explains. Some people may think Martina Navratilova is the best female tennis player "ever", others may think Stefanie Graf is the one. It is arguable and it will "arguably" take years to reach a conclusion. There might be "no" end of this argument at all because it is your preference and how you view their records.

You use "arguably" when:

  1. You know there could arise an argument because you know your statement is controversial and people might have a differnt view/idea about it.

  2. You want to avoid any argument about this topic.

When you Google search "arguably best", "unarguably best", you get 182,000 hits for the former and only 6,890 hits for the latter. If you Google "unarguably worst", you get merely 274 hits, but 30,400 hits for "arguably worst".

You can't depend on the number of hits, but you can see "unarguably" is far less used than "arguably".

Adverbs like "absolutely", "certainly", and "surely" are far more frequently used than "unarguably". The reason why is arguable but you "arguably" don't want to use an "unpopular" adverb among many (which can mean the same) when you make a statement.

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    "unarguably the best" does sound a little odd or unusual to my ears, I think "indisputably" or "undisputed" are more common – user568458 Nov 7 '15 at 9:59
  • @user568458 Yes, indeed. I think that's why its usage is quite small compared with "arguably". – user140086 Nov 7 '15 at 10:19
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unarguably= undoubtedly. is arguably= just may be.

Is it correct to say that he is the best, or that he is one of the best?

It depends on what you mean to say.

  • so they are not used to say the same thing and the person who says it actually meant what he or she said? that's why i got confused. like today i heard "hes arguably the best nba player" did they mean he was the best? what's the real meaning when you say "arguably". is it the same as "one of the" -- "hes one of the best nba players" (but there are others who are just as good or better" – bodacydo Nov 7 '15 at 3:58
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Unarguably- When you want to give a solid, definitive approach. Makes you sound more confident.

Arguably- When you want to include all stances on an issue. Makes you harder to disagree with.

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Both are in fact sides of the same coin. You use "arguably" when it can be argued with "good reasons" to prove the case. "Unarguably" is used when it is but understood by everyone to be true. For example:

"It is arguably one of the best projects of its kind in the last millennium."

Someone can say that the credit goes to another project for some other factors.

"Burj Khalifa is unarguably the tallest structure in the world."

Can anyone argue on Burj? No. For such statements, we use "Unarguably", for others it is fine to use "arguably".

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